GoogleIt Mail IT Print IT PermaLinkAn Ending On A Day Of Beginning
10:15:14 PM

By the calendar, this is a New Year's post, but it can not be a Happy New Year post.

My mom, Alma Cohen Schwartz, had a knack for picking memorable dates. She was born on April 15th, the day that all of us in America know as income tax day. She passed away this morning, January 1st.

Apart from the exact timing, this was not unexpected. It was resolution, peaceful resolution, of what was sadly long in coming. We began to notice her descent into Alzheimer's Disease quite a few years ago, which was compounded by additional medical problems that weakened her dramatically starting early last year. By the time I visited her in Indianapolis this past summer only the faintest glimmer of her old self managed to surface, only briefly for a few moments when she began humming La Marseillaise. She was not French. This was just something that she would do, for joy, for humor, for the unexpected, or just becase she wanted to.

We had not known whether she would make it to the holiday season this year, but we planned a visit for Dec 25th to the 29th, and we understood that we might need to rearrange to go sooner. I tried to keep my business travel to a minimum, and delayed booking some scheduled trips for as long as possible in order to stay as flexible as possible, but a trip to Paris just before the holidays could not be put off -- and that trip was then rearranged into a trip to Slovakia, lasting two days longer than plannned -- three days for my luggage, giving me barely time to unpack and re-pack. On the day I got back I got word from my sister that mom's vital signs were dangerously weak and it was unclear whether she would even hold out until we arrived in Indianapolis, but she did.

Before I got to actually visit her, the nurses took me aside to tell me that -- they've seen it before, many times -- she might just be waiting for me to arrive before she could go... but actually she seemed to rally a bit. Of course, I have no idea whether there was any cause and effect. I can't even know whether she was aware of my presence, but she did squeeze my hand for quite some time with more strength than I would have expected given her overall weakened condition. I'll just never know.

We could have extended our trip past the 29th, but chose not to for several reasons. One was that I could tell that I had been fighting a cold myself for days and I could tell I was about to lose, which would keep me from being able to visit mom anyhow. Another reason was that we received word that a young man that my older daughter knew from her involvement in local youth theater had been killed in a drunk driving accident back home, and it was important to let her grieve with her own friends. The main reason, though, was that she did rally a bit and we just couldn't know whether it was going to be a matter of days or weeks.

It turned out to be days. I got a call yesterday telling me of a significant down-turn. The rally had ended and vitals were now even worse than before. And then the call from my dad at 8 AM this morning -- New Year's morning. She had made it a couple of hours past midnight.

My mom was precocious, graduating from Manchester Central High School here in New Hampshire only a few weeks after turning 16, then from Smith College at 20, and going directly from there to graduate school in Romance Languages at Columbia University. She went back for more graduate school again 20 years later, in elementary education and school administration. She had a quick and keen intellect, and an abundance of personality, and although she was physically small she was strong. She beat considerable odds and survived for 27 years after being treated twice for breast cancer. She was a school teacher, amongst many other things, and she was my teacher for many life lessons outside of school.

I have already been missing her, as even before she and my father moved far away to Indianapolis I was seeing her intellect and personality slowly disappear into the fog of Alzheimer's. Missing someone who is still physically with us, however, is incomplete and paradoxical, and that is now resolved.

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Comments :v

1. John Head01/02/2007 12:57:28 AM

Rich - I am sorry to hear about your loss. Thanks for sharing the last days and memories of your mother with us. She, you and the rest of your family are in my prayers.

2. Amy Blumenfield01/02/2007 01:30:27 AM

Sounds like your mom was an amazing woman. You and your family are in my thoughts.

3. Kevin Pettitt01/02/2007 01:44:43 AM

Condolences on your loss Richard. Your account of these last days, and her life overall, was very moving. Thanks for sharing.

4. Ben Langhinrichs01/02/2007 02:17:53 AM

I am terribly sorry to hear about your mother. I'm not sure whether this will help, but several years ago, my grandfather died after about eight years of being totally lost in his mind due to Alzheimer's. It may sound strange, but seeing him at rest in his coffin, I suddenly felt that I finally had him back the way he was before, solemn, peaceful and dignified (he was a minister). All the years of vagueness and incomprehension dropped away. It felt like a tremendous gift. I hope your mother too can now be back more fully with you as she was before the disease set in.

5. Alan Bell01/02/2007 05:21:41 AM

sorry to hear about your loss Richard.

6. Chris Blatnick01/02/2007 07:11:21 AM

Richard...I'm very sorry to hear about your mother. Condolences to you and your family. Thank you for sharing your thoughts during this hard time. Your mother was obviously an incredible lady. My grandfather also had Alzheimer's and as Ben mentioned, it's almost a blessing when they are finally at peace. My best to you...

7. Nathan T. Freeman01/02/2007 07:38:06 AM


Words escape me. My heartfelt best for you and your family in a difficult time.

8. Chris Whisonant01/02/2007 07:59:31 AM

Richard, I'm so sorry to hear of the loss of your mother. Over the past two months I've lost a wonderful aunt and my grandmother. Both were somewhat expected. In 05 my wife lost her grandfather who had Alzheimer's - that's a cruel disease.

May you find peace in this and also condolences to your daughter in the loss of her friend. That's really tough for kids...

9. Ben Poole01/02/2007 08:13:12 AM

Sincere condolences to you and your family Richard.

10. Joe Litton01/02/2007 08:55:14 AM

Condolences... *sigh* mom passed away 23 years ago; my dad, 6 months ago. Time eases the loss, but doesn't erase it. And I guess that's good. It means that we still feel the bond of love that we had.


11. Sean Burgess01/02/2007 09:42:09 AM


Many heartfelt condolences from me and my family. It sounds like your mother was a wonderful person to have in your life and she will sorely be missed.


12. Rob McDonagh01/02/2007 10:05:46 AM


Please accept my condolences. Alzheimer's is truly terrible and heartbreaking disease.

13. Carl Tyler01/02/2007 10:38:46 AM


My thoughts are with you and your family. My sincerest sympathies.


14. Phil Randolph01/02/2007 10:54:48 AM


My sincere condolences to you and your family at this time.


15. John Coolidge01/02/2007 03:06:32 PM

HI Richard Condolences on your los. Joe L said it right. I have lost both my parents and understand what you are feeling

16. Danny Lawrence01/02/2007 05:05:40 PM

As you know Rich, I lost my father this past August, his death was sudden and accidental, and as such I was spared seeing him deteriorate into a shell of himself, however I lament the fact that I could have had more time with him.
I'm not sure which of us got the better end of this lousy stick, but I understand your pain and send you my condolances.

17. Bruce Perry01/02/2007 09:28:50 PM

My condolences on your loss. Losing a parent is hard enough. Losing a parent to Alzheimer's seems as though it would be a double loss.

I only met your mom a few times, but I remember her best from the Bat Mitvah a few years ago. It was evidently a good day for her; her memory seemed unimpaired and her intellect was unmistakable. I thorougly enjoyed my conversation with her.

18. Rob Novak01/02/2007 10:18:47 PM


Our most sincere condolences and warmest thoughts at this time. We are so very sorry for your loss. Your mom was a light in your life.

Rob and Liz

19. Ray "The Lion King" Bilyk01/02/2007 10:27:42 PM

I'm sorry for your loss. You and your family will be in my thoughts.... Thank you for sharing this at such a personal time....

20. David Marshak01/03/2007 08:30:50 AM


All of our thoughts are with you. Sounds like she was a remarkable women; and she had an impact on you, your familty, and the world that she so recently left.


21. Chris Mobley01/03/2007 09:20:07 AM

So sorry for your loss, Rich. It truly touched me. My own mom is getting up in years, and while I think I will have her for a few more years, I can't help but think about preparing myself for when that time comes. Your post has helped me prepare.

While I'm sure it must have been very hard to share, thank you for doing so.


22. Alex Wilson01/03/2007 09:47:55 AM

I am sorry to hear about your loss Rich. Your posting was very thoughtful and spoke highly of your mother. Sounds like she was a wonderful woman. May you take comfort in the fact that she is at peace now.


23. Mary Warner01/03/2007 01:55:10 PM


I am saddened to hear of your loss. My condolences to you and your family. Your mother must have been quite an amazing woman and I know you will miss her.

24. Brian Benz01/03/2007 10:29:53 PM

Sorry to hear of your loss.

25. Devin Olson01/04/2007 08:33:44 AM

Man, I'm truly sorry. I could probably try to write some uplifting stuff, but right now you're grieving; so I'll let you grieve.

My prayers are with you though.


26. Kitty & Warren Elsmore01/04/2007 08:43:13 AM

Rich, I shall keep you and your family in my prayers. Our sincere condolences on the loss of your Mother. Losing a parent is very hard and it affects us all differently - be yourself in your grief, you are in our thoughts.

27. Scott Good01/05/2007 04:14:03 PM


So sorry to hear about your mother. My condolences and thoughts are with you.


28. Esther Strom01/05/2007 06:06:51 PM


I'm sorry to hear about your mother. I'll be thinking of you, and giving my mom an extra hug when I see her next.


29. Ken Yee01/08/2007 01:59:00 PM

Sorry to hear about your Mom. Lost both of my parents to cancer and it was painful to watch them die over several months, so I can imagine how you feel :

30. Jon Hydro01/16/2007 08:50:03 PM


Sorry about your loss. I truly feel a sadness today.


31. Bruce Collins01/21/2007 04:13:50 PM

After our earlier exchange, I was rooting about your site - casually checking some of your links on a variety of subjects (LP's to digital, a number of archives on the November elections, current cavorting in Orlando, a recent Supreme Court decision, some Linux entries, various people I've never met being tagged, etc.) - when I came across your piece on losing your mother.
While I've never met you, let alone your mother, I was touched by your account of her closing days. It is a singular event in everyone's life and one which is never easy. What is hopeful is that with time the grief seems to be inevitably displaced by the memories of the earlier, happier days.

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